Friday, June 6, 2014

The Dog Project Phase 2...and 3

This is a very long blog post as I am summarizing an entire project in one post.  Its worth the read as it was such an interesting study.  As I mentioned in my first post about our Dog Project, it was odd that we took on a project so close to the end of the year.  Our culminating event actually occurred on our very last day of school.  This project took on a life of its own...guest dogs came out of the woodwork, field trips and professional visitors just clicked and the enthusiasm of the children was high, so we went with it.

In my last post on this topic, I described the impetus for the project and our first guests.  Learning about the guide dog puppies gave us a bit of a direction for our study as the topic of dogs is so vast.  We focused a great deal on working dogs and the variety of different jobs that dogs can have.  We did also learn about various breeds and the features of each breed by "interviewing" our visitors.  By the end of the study we were able to get answers to most of our initial questions...and the many, many new questions that arise when learning.

Here is a brief synopsis of how the rest of the project unfolded...

One of the reasons this project was of interest to our students was because they were hearing about the search for and then arrival of one of our student's new puppy.  She brought her 12 week old puppy, Bailey, in to school with her mom and they told us about caring for a new puppy as well as some facts about the Labrador breed.  We were shown how to trim nails and paw fur as well as learn about some of Bailey's training regimen.  They they were able to feed him, give him water and walk him around our playground.


Our Educational Consultant for the school also works with her dog doing therapy.  Henry, the therapy dog, came to class.  Before his visit, the children thought of what they were wondering about a therapy dog.  Questions such as "what does he do?", "does he wear a uniform?" "does he get to play?" were among the many on our list.  We always share our specific questions with our visitors so their talk can be guided by our wonderings.  When time allows, I usually get the questions to the visitors before our meeting, so they have time to think about them and prepare.  We learned about Henry's work and his free time, as well as about the breed of Double Doodle.  (This is why I love this approach so much...I never knew my Labrador had webbed feet and why!  I went home and checked and was amazed.  So great to learn along WITH your students every day!)


Another student shared her Havanese, Shiver, with the class.  This is a breed of circus dogs, so she made sure to show us the tricks he is learning.


We had 6 week old puppies, then a 12 week old puppy, a 9 month old puppy, so it was time to see the other end of the spectrum.  My dog, Bella, spent the day with us.  She is 11 years old.  She is starting to slow down, has a graying chin and is very calm around the children.

We discussed the differences in the various ages and breeds we had been meeting.  At the same time, each child was encouraged to bring in a photo of a dog; their dog, past or present, a neighbor's dog or that of a family member.  As the photos came in we researched the type of breed for each dog.

For a representation of our study, without too much time left in our year, we agreed to make one replica of a dog.  We chose Bella as she was the easiest to measure and she spent the most time with us.  So, using unifix cubes the children measured her body in various parts and then kept track of it with their writing so we could undertake creating a life sized version of Bella.


We then tried something I had not done before.  I have several children who find it very difficult to draw.  They have trouble getting started and need to be talked through the process of how to start, which way to hold the paper, where on the paper to start, the basic shape of what they are trying to create and so on.  We did a large cooperative drawing of Bella as a class talking out loud the thinking process that goes on when attempting to draw something you are looking at.  Following the group drawing, each child drew their own representation of Bella.  It was very interesting.  The children that normally had great difficulty drawing had an easier time, and those that did not usually have an issue had many more details in their drawings. 

We made Bella out of paper mache on top of ballons as well as wooden pieces and paper towel rolls.  It was a wonderful sensory experience for the children as most of them had not tried paper mache before.  They were able to see the differences occurring as it dried and became hard. They also learned the dedication and hard work it takes to create a large project of this kind.  We needed layers of paper mache every day for a week.  It was a team effort and everyone helped a little bit each day...even if they needed a little coaxing:-)



The children used their previous measurements to make sure her body, tail, muzzle, etc was the correct length.  They even noticed her little gray chin and added that detail.  

When Bella was finished one of our students took it upon herself to create a collar and leash for the dog figuring out how to attach it and even creating the dog tags we had learned about during the various visits. 

While we were working on this project in our art center for two weeks, we also had a few more research events.  A police dog visited our school.  This was one dog we could not pet.  The Norwalk Police Department K-9 Unit was terrific showing us his various uniforms and leashes and even reenacting a hunt for a suspect down the street from our school.   

We met, Ranger, another working dog, who works with a family that has diabetes.  A former student brought in his dog and explained how he can smell when he and his brother have low or high blood sugar and then alert his mom. 

We were not able to make it to the dog pound as the dog warden did not think it would be a good place for the children to visit, but we did visit the Animal Shelter and learned about what happens to unwanted and abandoned pets. We brought paper towels to help the shelter and made our own dog biscuits for the dogs there. We also had a visit with a Spinone and learned about working dogs who help hunt and retrieve birds.   

With this action packed month, we ended up having our culminating event on our last day.  The parents usually come in to hear some songs and I have a special end of year story that I like to read to everyone.  We were still able to do this, but added in the culmination of our project. By now the walls are usually bare as we pack up our entire school for an art show.  But, we left up all of our documentation panels and dog study related displays. The children created dog ears based on a specific breed of dog in which they were interested-most of them chose the photo they brought to school.  These dog "experts" then showed their families around the room and explained to them what they had learned, also introducing them to what one parent coined, "Bella Mache".  

It was an incredible last month of school.  We never stopped investigating our interests. These children are leaving this class with the understanding that they can follow their interests, learn about them from books, the internet and experts and then share that learning with others in various ways.  What a terrific foundation for being life long learners.   

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